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North and South (North and South Trilogy Part One) Mass Market Paperback – June 1, 2000
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From the Back Cover
From America's master storyteller and writer of historical fiction comes the epic story of two families -- the Hazards and the Mains. Separated by vastly different ways of life, joined by the unbreakable bonds of true friendship, and torn asunder by a country at the threshold of a bloody conflict that would change their lives forever....
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In this book, the North represents all that is gritty, industrial, scrapping, harsh, poor and exploitive about 19th century England, while the South represents all that is fine, bucolic, genteel and traditional. It is a broad national canvas, on which is painted the central social problem of the century – the industrialization of England and the inequality of wealth it created, while at the same time it built the vast engine of entrepreneurship and dynamism that made the British Empire great. It utterly transformed not only England but the vast global empire it ruled, influencing that empire and the rest of the world in ways that have lasted even into our own times. Astonishing innovation creates tremendous wealth that is always concentrated at first and later is dispersed throughout the economy by market and governmental forces.
Gaskell wrote her novel in the turbulent years immediately following the revolutions of 1848 that shocked and rocked Europe. At about the same time that she was writing this feeling and masterful exploration of the age’s vexing politics, a man named Karl Marx was in the British Museum in London, scribbling away at his own interpretation of the same problem, which he would publish to the world in 1867 as Das Kapital. Forty years later, this book would prove he spark that ignited the bonfire of the Russian Revolution and lit the bonfire of communism, whose lurid flames would define much of the extreme politics of the 20th century.
For the many admiring readers of Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontës and Trollope, Gaskell is a shockingly different experience. Her writing eschews the polite drawing rooms of the upper classes and instead explores the real, gritty lives of the classes that had little representation in the novels of the day, except perhaps as sentimentalized by Dickens. Here we have a clergyman who resigns his position because of a doctrinal dispute with the Established Church (heavens!). Here we have good people who suffer appallingly and die from atrocious illnesses. Here we have lovers who duel in sharp debate and characters who speak in authentic dialect, instead of the sappy, faux-dialect served up by other novelists of the period. It is the stuff of life, and we are led through it unflinchingly.
Before the transformation wrought by industrialization, there was only one source of wealth in England and in most of Europe: land. It was concentrated in very few hands and the way it worked was, one family owned most of the land in the district; most of the people in that district worked for that family and poured their labor and the wealth of that district into that family’s stately home and pleasant lifestyle. But industrialization changed all that, creating enormous new wealth, new progress and new ways to become successful and to rise economically and socially. This transfusion of new wealth and the proliferation of new avenues of ascent created massive social change, unrest and opportunity for both self-improvement and class exploitation.
Why read a book like this? Well, there are several very good reasons. It is a great novel and deals with large and very serious issues of human drama and experience. It is humane, historical and hugely interesting, as well as being very well written. But too you may mine it for clues to our own day and our own social and economic problems, when each day’s newspaper is full of discussion of whether wealth is too concentrated in our own society or whether efforts at redistribution have suppressed the economy and created an unhealthy dependency and social atrophy. My advice is to forget the unreadable Karl Marx and instead read this eminently readable and in fact great book. Then compare it with our own times and troubles and see what lessons you take away from it. Though it is 110 years old, it is still fresh, original and provocatively thoughtful.
Pride and Prejudice for people who like to think, and are socially interested.
A great view of the difference in the rich and the poor social levels in the 1800's, it truly makes the reader glad someone took the labour fights and fight for women's rights, so we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
I liked the characters, they seem to me like real persons with whom one can identify in a lesser or greater degree. They adapt in a natural way, through philosophy and events.
The draw-back was, for me, the huge amount of Christian indoctrination, but one can easily overlook those.
The very positive is how the author is able to convey both the mill owner's and workers' point of view. For this reason, the book is worth reading.
The book follows a young lady through her difficult move from a home she loves in the south of England to the colder, harsher climate of a Northern England mill town. There is some great symbolism there and for the younger reader a commentary such as Cliffnotes or Sparknotes may be helpful if you want more depth.
The plot is enjoyable enough to be worth even an easy read, though, so don't pass this up. Its more than a great romance, its a window both into this era in history and to the prejudices we each hold about those different from us.
This version is a bit flimsy, but the editor’s notes are very, very helpful. However, they sometimes contain spoilers. If you’ve never read/watched the story, be cautious about the editor’s notes.
Also, unless you speak French, be prepared to Google something every couple chapters.